SalesTechStar Interview with Ryan Hilton, Senior Vice President, Head of Sales at NetBase Quid
Besides tighter marketing and sales budgets in 2020, business leaders had to circumvent through a number of other challenges to ensure stability and continuity in the midst of the pandemic, Ryan Hilton, Senior Vice President, Head of Sales at NetBase Quid takes us through his team’s experience while discussing a few best practices to keep in mind for 2021:
Hi Ryan, welcome to SalesTechStar! Tell us a little about your journey through the years, we’d love to hear more about your role at NetBase Quid…
After graduating from college, I had aspirations of getting into the finance world but after 6 months of sitting in a cubicle at an investment bank, and some great guidance from my dad who spent his career in sales, I realized I needed to make a change. Since then I’ve spent the last 17 years selling technology hardware, software, research and consulting as an SDR, AM, AE, manager and VP. I’ve sold to restaurants, hotels, SMBs and agencies. However, I really love the complex enterprise sale and I’ve spent the last 10+ years helping global companies solve problems leveraging data and next-generation analytics technology. I joined Quid almost six years ago as one of the company’s first sales hires and spent a lot of those early days building out use cases and fine-tuning our sales pitch in the market. I went on to lead and scale the sales team to over 30 people just prior to our merger with Netbase. Today, I currently lead a global sales team focused on generating new business and growing our most strategic accounts.
How have sales processes (even perhaps your salestech / martech) changed for you and the team in 2020, in view of the ongoing global pandemic?
Operating in a completely virtual environment has certainly had its challenges but after getting over some of the initial hurdles and embracing new technologies our field teams have managed to remain incredibly productive throughout 2020. In my mind, communication is the key. For most of my tenure at Quid I spent every day at our HQ in San Francisco so it was very easy to stay in touch with reps, meet with other departments and keep a finger on the pulse of the sales team. My team was accustomed to coming by my desk or stopping me in the kitchen to ask for advice. Now I do my best to try and keep that kind of informal communication going even though we are now all spread out across the globe. Rather than scheduling a meeting two days from now, I tell my team to just pick up the phone and call or text me anytime so we can make decisions quickly and efficiently.
One technology solution that has been incredibly valuable this year is Gong which is a tool that records all of my team’s sales calls and uses NLP to analyze the conversations and highlight snippets for me to listen to later on. For example, I can recap every pricing conversation that my team had yesterday in 15 minutes over my morning coffee. It’s also been a great coaching tool to identify common challenges in the sales process and promote best practices across the team.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the kind of technologies needed to boost efforts of sales teams in this new normal; can you talk about some innovative ways in which you’ve seen B2B marketing sales teams get creative with their prospecting and outreach and salestech to create more impact during this time?
With budgets being tight across the board in 2020, new business sales have been very challenging. One thing we’ve done as a sales team this year is double down on our existing client relationships to support both new business and account growth. We’ve had a lot of success expanding our footprint with strategic clients and our SDR team has run a number of prospecting campaigns focused on getting back in touch with old software users that have moved on to new companies. Starting a call with some amount of credibility and trust goes a long way, particularly in a year like this when resources are so limited.
As sales teams plan for Q1; what are some of the top of mind thoughts you’d share given the current business climate?
As we move into 2021, I think it is critical for sales leadership and other executives to focus on agile decision making. As we learned in 2020, a strategic plan you make in February could be obsolete by March. In this kind of business climate, we all need to be able to make fast, data-driven decisions that react to constantly changing market conditions.
Every Friday at Netbase Quid, the field leadership team meets to review our pipeline, understand what has changed from the previous week and discuss any potential signals our reps are seeing in the market. This real-time feedback loop allows our leadership team to make quick decisions and drive programs that can impact results quickly. This year has certainly taught us that we can’t take anything for granted, even with our best clients, and we need to remain nimble to stay ahead of the market and competition.
Can you share a few success stories in sales from your 2020 campaigns at NetBase Quid!
As a company Netbase Quid has been somewhat lucky in 2020 given that our technology is used to deliver critical insights and drive strategic decision making. The smartest brands and agencies in the world recognized early on in the pandemic that in order to survive this global crisis they would need to have continuous intelligence around their customers and market. Our marketing team jumped on this opportunity early by creating a number of free COVID-related resources that provided access to valuable industry-specific insights. With so many companies scrambling for data and direction, we were able to be a trusted resource while also opening the door for sales to start building a relationship.
We also recognized early on in the pandemic that organizations were dealing with significant lay-offs and analyst teams were running very lean, so we coached our sales teams to augment their traditional software sales pitch with consulting services to give organizations the analytical bandwidth they needed to continue driving critical insights for their business. We aren’t looking to jump head first into the consulting business but it has helped to drive much needed revenue during a challenging year.
How, according to you, will sales and marketing teams need to upskill / reskill (including those at leadership levels) in the new normal; to meet today’s business needs, more importantly, what should leaders do to enable better training efforts?
Sales reps and leaders will need to respond to the fact that every company is facing extreme financial pressure. Sales teams are being forced to operate with fewer resources and will need to maximize the value of every lead that comes through the door. On the client and prospect side, budgets are getting slashed or disappearing completely. As sales leaders, we can help to prepare our sales reps by coaching them how to sell value and business impact, not features and price. Spending on technology solutions will continue to be tight for the foreseeable future so instead of hoping for leftover budget reps must challenge their prospects to think differently. The reps that do this well and take control of the sales process will continue to win.
A few top tips you’d share with sales reps moving up the ladder during a global slowdown?
Focus on solutions not problems. Every leadership team has more problems than they know how to tackle right now. As much as I appreciate the reps that consistently beat their quota, I love seeing a sales person go above and beyond to help solve larger challenges and attempt to make the entire team more effective. When I see someone that already has that leadership mindset, even if they are not currently in a leadership role, there is no doubt that we will see that person move up the ladder quickly.
A parting thought on your biggest sales goof-up and the learning that came from it!
Years ago, I sold a consulting engagement to a client based in Asia. We spent months iterating on the work and going back and forth over deliverables. The clients were not very vocal but at the same time we never heard any negative feedback, so we assumed we were on the right track. As the project came near its end my colleague and I flew to Asia to present the key insights to senior stakeholders. Less than 24 hours before the presentation we received an email from the client telling us that the meeting was going to be cancelled and that they were deeply disappointed with the results of the research. After a sleepless night we ended up spending the next two days meeting with stakeholders to figure out what went wrong and attempted to salvage the relationship…
As it turned out, we didn’t know enough about our client’s culture to understand that the lack of feedback was actually a very bad signal and they simply did not feel comfortable telling us that our work was headed in the wrong direction. Of course, we also didn’t explicitly ask because we were more accustomed to US-based stakeholders who were not afraid to give candid feedback. After many more weeks of work we ended up saving the project but the key lesson I learned was that you can never take anything for granted in sales and you always have to ask the difficult questions. As a sales leader I see a lot of reps forecast on hope and assumptions while also being afraid to ask the tough questions because they don’t want to hear bad news. Proactively asking the hard questions will lead to fewer surprises, more accurate forecasting and more efficient, consultative selling.
NetBase Quid is the next generation consumer and market intelligence platform, delivering contextual insights to reveal business trends, connect with consumers, and understand the story behind competitors and the market. The platform uses advanced artificial intelligence to process billions of indexed resources across all forms of structured and unstructured data, empowering our brand, agency and consulting services customers to make smart, data driven decisions accurately, quickly and efficiently. NetBase Quid is a trusted partner of American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Ogilvy, T-Mobile, United Airlines, YUM! Brands, Walmart, Hyundai, Wunderman Thompson, Microsoft, BCG and The New York Times.
Ryan Hilton is the Senior Vice President, Head of Sales at NetBase Quid